Types of string instruments

By | April 6, 2021


Played by picking or strumming the strings with fingers, nails, picks or plectra, picking instruments include some of the most famous instruments in modern music, including guitar and banjo. This category also includes traditional favorites such as lyre and harpsichord.


Bow instruments are played by pulling a stick strung with hair, usually horsehair, over the strings to make them vibrate. Most bow instruments, including violin and cello, can be played with picking as well.


Instruments played by a hammer that strikes the strings fall into this category. Famous striking string instruments include piano and dulcimer, although some guitars can now be played with hammers. Clavichord uses an alternative form of percussion by relying on a brass key or wedge, to press strings on a hard surface to make sound. Bow instruments can be beaten, such as when a violinist uses the back of his bow to play a piece of music, and strike instruments can be picked.

Alternative names

String instruments can also be classified as lutes, harps or lizards. Lutes are string instruments with necks, such as guitars, violins and mandolas, while harps are stretched to a frame. Zithers, including autoharps, dulcimers and pianos, contain strings mounted on a body.

Unusual string instruments

An Aeolian harp stretches strings of different thicknesses over a wooden frame and is then left in a windy place, often an open window, so that the wind creates music in a modified version of wind chimes. Autoharp relies on attenuators to mute chords that are not necessary for a given note. Musicians only pick the exposed strings needed to produce a given sound. Hurdy-gurdy is a percussion instrument in which a raisin wheel causes a hammer to strike strings inside an organ box. A sound card makes the music audible. Unlike many string instruments, hurdy-gurdy drone has strings that play a constant pitch while other strings provide the melody.

Moving a magnet over steel string instruments creates music by vibrating the strings.

Ancient String Instruments

One of the oldest stringed instruments still played is the yue qin, a Chinese lute that dates back to 200 BC. It is nicknamed the multi-guitar because its round base resembles a full moon. The Rebab is an Arabic arc instrument from the ninth century, while the cannon is an Arabic instrument from the 11th century that resembles a piano. The nail fig called the nail on which it rests is an 8th or so Persian lye without frets. 12th-century Europeans played the psalter, a forerunner of the citer, by picking it or using a bow. The old santoor, played with a hammer, is still popular in Indian folk music today. String instruments are among the oldest known instruments, dating back to the ancient Egyptians and Persians. The sound and pitch of these instruments vary depending on the length and thickness of the string, the tension of the string, the body of the instrument, and the sound card to which the string is attached. A sound card makes the music audible as the sound bounces, although modern instruments generally use electrical amplification. There are three classifications for string instruments, although instruments may temporarily move to other categories.